The Merchant of Venice | Antonio (Character Analysis)
Antonio is a merchant of Venice and dear friend to Bassanio. His decision to enter a bond with Shylock, risking a pound of his own flesh for Bassanio’s debt, is one of the two major plots of the play. Antonio is an interesting character insofar as he tends to feel in extremes, but he speaks in a moderate and balanced way. His hatred for Shylock is never disputed – he’s quick to assert that while he’s spit on Shylock before, he’d be happy to do it again. Shylock repeatedly tells us Antonio has been awfully and unnecessarily cruel, and this hatred for the Jew is balanced only by Antonio’s deep and seemingly inexplicable love for Bassanio. Repeatedly throughout the play, Antonio offers and risks everything he has for his friend – even his own life – and never regrets it.

While the two men have what they both agree is a deep friendship, Antonio’s involvement with (and his generosity to) Bassanio definitely invites some speculation. Antonio opens the play with a discussion of his great sadness. He explicitly says his merchandise isn’t the source of his woe, and we’re left to wonder what’s going on with him – until Bassanio enters. As soon as Antonio has a chance to speak to his friend privately, the first thing on his mind is the woman Bassanio is wooing. It becomes clear that Antonio has asked about it before and has been promised an answer this day. One might clearly draw a link between Antonio’s sadness and the weight of Bassanio’s impending courtship – Antonio is suffering because he is about to lose his friend.

The question in the subtext is whether the feelings Antonio has for Bassanio go well beyond the bounds of friendship and cross over into the territory of romantic love. This might explain Antonio’s sadness, his willingness to do anything for Bassanio, and most importantly, his constant need to contrast his friendship with the man to Portia’s love for him. He calls Bassanio away from what should be...